Kawachi 1996 - "A prospective study of social networks in relation to total mortality and cardiovascular disease in men in the USA"

Kawachi, Colditz, Ascherio, Rimm, Giovannucci, Stampfer, Willet
"A prospective study of social networks in relation to total mortality and cardiovascular disease in men in the USA"
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
June 1996; v50, n3; pp 245-251
On the Web
Relevance: High

A longitudinal study of roughly 32,000 male health professionals in the US. According to the authors, "socially isolated men... were at increased risk for cardiovascular disease mortality... and deaths from accidents and suicides... [and] risk of stroke incidence." These results were most strongly seen comparing the 50% of most socially-connected men to the 6% of least socially-connected. The study defined social networks as marrital status, number of friends and relatives, and membership in church or community groups--some of these features are conceivably affected by sprawl.

A few interesting results:

  • Risk of death by accident and suicide are related to marital status, not belonging to a church or group, and the absence of close relatives.
  • The positive health effect of social networks is survival from, say, heart disease but social ties do not reduce the risk of incidence.
  • The positive effects of social networks are greater for smokers and those with hypertension.

It seems there should be a few caveats to the study's findings.

  1. The study follows health professionals (doctors, dentists, vets, etc) who likely have higher incomes and certainly have considerably better knowledge and access to to health care than the general population. It's not clear what impact this has on the findings.
  2. The study only includes men and other studies have suggested that women may not receive noticeable health benefits from social networks. If women do not benefit, this would reduce the study's claimed benefit for the general population by half.
  3. The least socially connected 6% of the population have few friends and are not married--and these factors are probably not affected by sprawl. So it's difficult to argue that sprawl is relevantly affecting health outcomes by impinging on social networks.

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